Stuff and Things – Essays, Etc.

I Was a Kindergarten Dropout

I was a kindergarten dropout.  Seriously.  It happened early in my kindergarten career.  It was winter and I was walking to kindergarten, which at the time, was held in the basement of the Presbyterian Church.  Suddenly two sixth-grade bullies accosted me.  They robbed me of the toy squirrel I was taking for “Show and Tell” and then, just for fun, they took my coat. It didn’t occur to me to go home.  In spite of the bitter cold, I continued to make my way to school. (This, of course, means I can tell my children about walking six blocks to school in the middle of winter without even a coat, with a certain degree of honesty.)  By the time I reached the church basement, I was blue with cold.

 

The net result of my misadventure was that I became very ill, and by the time I recovered, my mother decided it wasn’t worth sending me back.  I, the five-year old dropout would stand in my front yard, watching the neighborhood kids go to school, just WAITING for the day I could join them.  Time moved very slowly, but eventually, that day arrived.  I was totally unprepared.  You mean I have to SIT at this tiny little desk ALL day?  You mean I CAN’T talk to who ever I want whenever I want?  I was sent out to stand in the hall on my very first day.

 

But I loved school.  I loved to learn – at least until jr. high when somehow learning stopped being fun.

 

When we moved to our new neighborhood, we didn’t register our daughter for kindergarten, even though she was old enough and even anxious to attend.  Our official excuse was that we didn’t know if we’d be staying, but if I were to be completely honest with myself, I simply wasn’t ready to let go.  There was also some question as to whether the school was going to be closed down.  Maybe there wouldn’t even be a school here.  Then what would we do?

 

We had toyed with the idea of home schooling from the moment our daughter was born, but neither of us had the time necessary to devote to teaching our child.  Our biggest concern was that our daughter was too bright, and would quickly become bored with school. (I’m sure all parents feel the same way, but my kid is EXTREMELY bright – a prodigy, really.  Just wait.  You’ll see.)  Yet, even with home schooling support groups and the Internet, I wanted my daughter to develop the social skills she would only acquire by being with other children.  I was thrilled to learn the school would remain open, and I wasn’t the only one.  People I barely knew were coming up to me at work and congratulating me on the decision, as though I had something to do with it.

 

I had no more excuses.  We loved the community and were planning to stay.  The school would remain open.  Still I procrastinated.  Really, the child is only six.  Isn’t that a bit young?  Couldn’t we wait until she was, say, eight?

 

It was the Friday before the long weekend when I finally climbed the stairs to the building that would alter our comfortable existence forever.  Everything was about to change.  And even though it was Friday, and the first day of school was Tuesday, I JUST WASN’T READY!

 

I pushed open the door, feeling my skin tingle all over.  I stepped inside, and in my mind I could hear the sound of a hundred or more new sneakers squeaking in the wide hall.  I could smell pink erasers and pencil shavings.  I was taken back to every first day of school in my life.  Who would be my teacher?  Were there any new kids?  Who would be my best friend now that Stacy had moved away?  Would any of the boys like me?

 

Suddenly, I missed those days with an almost painful longing.  I remembered the thrill of laying out my new clothes and gathering my school supplies in preparation.  I remember lying awake the night before, too excited to sleep, and the way even the air seemed to smell different in the morning.  I remember the sweetness of brown sugar melting onto the porridge my mother would make me eat before school on cold winter mornings.  I remembered the friends I had made and the lessons I had learned and I was glad – glad that my daughter would get to experience all those things. (Well, maybe not the porridge.  I hated the porridge.)

 

The staff showed me around the school.  I was delighted to learn that my daughter would be given work according to her (superior) abilities, and that she wouldn’t be stuffed into a tiny desk to small for her long (and very athletic) legs.

 

I couldn’t wait to get out of there.  I couldn’t wait to tell my daughter all of the wonderful things I had learned about her new school.  But as I was leaving the building, I stopped.  There, on the walls, were pictures of classes from years gone by.

 

Where are they now?  I wondered.  What have they become?  Are there doctors and teachers, writers and artists who got their start here in this very building?

 

Someday, perhaps years from now, someone will stop and look at a picture of my daughter and her classmates on the wall of the school.

 

“Wow,” they’ll think, “I didn’t know she went to school here.  She’s FAMOUS!”

 

 

Article first appeared in “Ramsay News” – October 2003

 

Winter Wind

I listen to the wind as it pushes past the house, rattling windows and shaking shingles.  The winds here are usually one of two kinds – the cold, arctic wind that comes out of the North, dangerous and biting, or the Chinook winds that come down from the mountains in the West, warm and dry, able to raise the temperature by 30 degrees in just a few hours.

I used to believe that the Chinook wind was a cosmic joke, designed to make one feel as though spring really would come again – someday.  But now that I’ve been here a few years, I’ve come to appreciate the Chinook and the relief it brings from the seemingly endless cold winter days.

For anyone living East of Alberta, the Chinook winds that favor us here are the forerunner to the dreaded Alberta Clipper, a winter storm that forms when the warm Chinook winds meet a cold air mass.  A fast-moving storm of bitter cold and high, gusting winds is created, getting caught up in the jet stream that blows Southeastward towards the Great Lakes, generally bringing a small amount of snow with it.

You’re welcome.

Out here on the prairie, there’s nothing between the wind and I except these four walls.  There are no trees or buildings to buffer or block.  The sound of the wind as it whistles, and wails is one I’ve come to associate with home.  The wind drifts and sculpts and polishes the ample snow. Entire roads can disappear without warning.

The cat stands at the patio doors and meows.  I open the door for her, but the winds are high.  She sniffs the air and shudders, giving me a look of disdain.  Somehow, even though she considers herself to be the higher life form, weather is under my control and the fact that I won’t change it for her is just rude. But never mind.  In cold like this, the mice will come to her.  There’s no real reason to go out to hunt.  And if it gets too boring, there are always the dust bunnies under the bed.  In the meantime, let the wind blow.  She returns to the fire and stretches out before it, comfortable and warm in her fur coat.

Yes, the fire looks very inviting.  And is that the smell of soup coming from the kitchen?  No?  Well, it will be in an hour.

 

A Child’s Magic

The other day I was slicing mushrooms for dinner when my three year old daughter pulled up a stool and climbed up to see what I was doing.
“What you doing, mommy?”
“Getting dinner ready.”
“What kind of dinner?”
“Spaghetti.”
“What’s this?” she asked, holding up a mushroom.
“A mushroom, Jassy, you know that.”
She thought for a moment.
“Not mushroom;” she said,”umbrella.”
“Really,” I said,”whose umbrella?”
“Fairy umbrella.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Not cut fairy umbrella, mommy.”
“I have to Jassy, I need them for dinner.”
“But fairy get wet!”
“It’s okay, Jassy.  The fairies have lots of umbrellas, so they sell some to earn money and so that we can make spaghetti.”
“What fairies buy mommy?”
“Buttons for their coats.”
All was quiet for a moment.
“Where fairies live, mommy?”
“In the forest, Jassy.”
“What kind of forest?”
“Any kind of forest, I guess.  The older the better.”
“Why forest?”
“Fairies like trees, honey.”
“All trees?”
“Yes, all trees.”
She watched me a moment or two longer and then wandered off.  A few minutes later she was back, a solemn look in her eyes.
“Whatcha got there, Jas?” I asked, noticing that her little hand was clenched in a fist.  She opened her hand.  On her palm lay three buttons.
“For fairy coats,”she told me.”Can I give them?”
So after dinner, we walked until we found a tree she thought the fairies would like, and carefully she lay her three buttons beneath it.

My husband and I talked when she was just a baby.  We agreed that I wouldn’t teach her any magic until she was older and wanted to learn.  But I don’t have to teach her.  She’s a child and children instinctively know magic until it’s hammered out of them by parents and teachers who’ve forgotten, or other children who no longer believe.  Some of us are lucky.  There’s a secret door in our souls where magic hides, sending out the faintest of whispers until we find our way back.  Even fewer never forget at all.
I often ask people why they travel the path they do.  The answers are most often spiritually unsatisfying.
“I grew disillusioned with Christianity.”
“It started as a rebellion.”
“It just felt right.”
The last answer, at least, is a reasonable one, and yet, too much is left unsaid.
Why did it feel right?
This is the challenge I have for you.  Look back at your lives.  What whispered to your soul?  Can you recall?  Do you remember the moments in your life that you knew, without a doubt, that magic was alive?  Alive!  Do you remember what it was like knowing that you could fly, if only you could run fast enough?
I’d love to hear from some of you on this.  I want to know which bits and pieces of magic stayed with you after Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were taken away.

When Jasmine and I returned from our walk, she brought a present for her daddy.
“Suprise, daddy!” she called.  “I brought you a present!”
“What is it?”
She opened her hand.
“A pinecone?  For me?  How come?”
“Cause you’re my friend, silly!”
See?  You don’t have to tell kids.  They already know.

 

*Article first appeared in “Synchronicity Magazine”  June/July 2005

 

Butterflies and Dragonflies

Dragonflies of fantastic proportion wheel and hover like miniature helicopters in the sky, above the clumps of Siberian Aster in pre-formed bouquets lining the highway.  A lone heron rises from the flats and flies away – sweeping grace in motion.

I stop to look at some wildflowers and notice a butterfly that I’ve never seen before.  Then I notice that there are hundreds of them.  They are everywhere!

All right, so maybe flying insects were not the reason I headed into the mountains today, but it doesn’t matter.  I’m here, and the dragonflies and the butterflies, and there is nothing else.  I am lost in the moment.

It took me a while to figure it out.  The business of life in the 21st century with its responsibilities and encumbrances had led to a loss of connectivity.  I’d lost my connection to the earth, the sky – to myself.  I’d forgotten how to be alone.

My first few ventures out in the world alone were tentative at best – laughable at worst.  I’d run back to the safety net that was my cell phone and I’d call someone. I was ashamed of my cowardice.

One day the inevitable happened – that little blinking light and the words “no service”.  There was a momentary bout with panic and then I became distracted by pine needles, pale green lichen and Mountain Meadow Cinquefoil. It was an epiphany.  I began to see the world through the lens of my camera, and the focus in my life changed.

I realized that, not only did I enjoy my own company, in some cases I enjoyed my own company more than the company I had been keeping.  I began to filter those relationships out of my life wherever possible.  I began to make a concentrated effort to spend some time alone.  I rediscovered simple joy.

There is joy in the smell of a mountain stream, joy in the feel of a mountain breeze.  There is joy in the silence, and joy in the solitude.

It doesn’t matter what “reason” I had for coming to the mountains today.

That feeling that comes over me – that quiet calm that settles like a shawl around my shoulders and makes me whole – that is the reason I come to the mountains, whatever else I may find.

 

The Moth

I love the glow of early dawn on city streets.  Traffic is light at that time of day, leaving one plenty of time for aimless thoughts. This morning, however, I was distracted from my thoughts by a moth that landed on my windshield.  At first, I didn’t think much of it – the light changed, and I pulled away.  I assumed that the moth would blow off my windshield, but he didn’t.  Instead, he bent his legs, flattened his wings, and held on.

Fascinated, I watched.  I changed speeds.  Nothing could budge this moth.  Surely, I thought, he’ll fly away at the next traffic light. But as luck would have it, I didn’t stop again.

“How does he hold on?” I wondered.

I suppose I could have turned the wipers on.  That would have gotten rid of him.  But I was watching a struggle for survival.  Who was I to interfere?

When I finally did stop, I watched as he shook out his wings and flew away.  The image remained with me.  Strength, resilience and flexibility.  That’s all it takes.  We, too, can overcome overwhelming odds.  All we need to do is flex our legs, fold back our wings and brace ourselves for the ride.

As long as no one turns the wipers on, we’ll be fine.